Jordan's Reform Movement Frustrated Over Lack of Progress

Article Summary
The Arab Spring-inspired reform movement in Jordan faces more obstacles daily, and is losing out to conservative forces, writes Tamer al-Samadi. To make matters worse, the new government, which came to power after the prime minister abruptly resigned this month, is believed to represent a shift against political reform.

In the Jordanian capital of Amman, people are wondering about the reasons behind the early resignation of former Prime Minister Awn Al-Khasawneh, who after resigning described his country's government as "the ugly wife."

Al-Khasawneh revealed to some of his close associates that he had resigned in protest of the repeated intervention on the part of the royal palace and the general intelligence into the decision-making processes of his government. He claims that him and his government have always defended principles of general governance.

The "dissident" president has been the talk of political circles for the last few days. Some question the intentions of new president Fayez al-Tarawneh. These critics describe him as "a right-wing governor" who is "hostile toward the advocates of reform." However, Tarawneh has denied this, stating that his government seeks to reform more laws.

In the neighborhood of Al-Tafilah, near Amman’s Raghadan Palace, the house of the oldest king in the country, furious young activists gathered in a house to start creating banners calling for Jordanian King Abdullah II to implement "real" reforms that would empower the people. According to them, "The mechanism of the royal appointment of governments is no longer feasible."

These young activists hail from Al-Tafilah, a city in the South which has witnessed unprecedented protests for around one year now. They discussed what they called "The state's plan to abort the popular movement." They all had a firm response to the state's alleged plans: "We pledge absolute allegiance to the homeland... and we will never stop protesting." When we, from Al-Hayat, visited them that evening, one of them shouted, "We are living one big lie; no real reforms are taking place on the ground." Another added, "If reforms do not materialize, the change will affect everyone."

Since the beginning of the Arab Spring-inspired protests in Jordan nearly 15 months ago, the Jordanian monarch has thus far changed prime ministers three times. None of them have managed to implement the major reforms demanded by the opposition and the popular movements.

The Senate

According to Al-Tafilah dissident Majdi al-Kabbalin, the protests initiated by Jordanians last year represented the first real threat to the sovereignty of King Abdullah II. The threat first emerged alongside the slogans of the “East Jordanian bloc,” which was at the forefront of the protest scene at the time. The Bloc called for reforms that would enable citizens to choose a parliamentary government, and an end to the royal appointment of members of the senate.

Sources close to the royal palace spoke to Al-Hayat under condition of anonymity, and revealed that the appointment of Tarawneh is a clear indicator that the decision-makers have restructured politics under a new set of assumptions.

The decision-makers’ new assumptions confirm a decline of US pressure on the Hashemite Kingdom to implement political reforms. These assumptions further reinforce the decision-makers' deep convictions that the Syrian regime will survive for a longer period, and that the democratic Arab spring is drawing to a close. They confirm a lack of internal consensus on political reforms, or any action in this regard.

The information exchanged among decision-makers indicates that, at this stage, the state is refraining from making major compromises in favor of the Islamic Movement, or to the political opposition to which the Movement is allied. This opposition includes parties like the National Front for Reform, which is led by former Prime Minister Ahmed Obeidat. The information being exchanged also indicates that the government will only carry out political reforms regarding the “one man, one vote” electoral law [which allows each citizen to vote for one representative from his own constituency] or, at best, the law of two votes proposed by the Khasawneh Government.

Several sources within the new government told Al-Hayat that a wide movement within the royal court and the general intelligence started supporting the “one man one vote” system, whereas another group called for the establishment of an electoral law which grants citizens two votes. According to this second proposal, citizens can vote for a representative from their district and for another from the whole country.

The “one man one vote” option has been repeatedly rejected by the opposition, which demands a “one man, two votes” electoral law whereby  50 percent of parliamentary seats would be elected by the nation as a whole.

Tarawneh had upset the opposition and the popular forces by saying that the “one man one vote” law, which had been utilized during the previous elections, was not far from being adopted once again.

In the same context, political sources said that a reshuffling of the decision-making process is in the projected future and that officials will resort to traditional and tribal figures in order to satisfy provinces that have become a major concern for them.

According to opposition leader Labib Kamhawi, the Tarawneh government "set the stage for an anti-reform movement within the decision-making institutions. According to this movement, carrying out the reforms demanded by the opposition will change the form of the ruling regime in Jordan."

But Kamhawi warned that refraining from implementing reforms or maintaining the status quo would not be able to resolve the crisis plaguing the Kingdom, and that the situation may deteriorate further.

Mohammad Abu Rumman, a researcher at the University of Jordan-based and government-funded Center for Strategic Studies, said that the first interpretation of Tarawneh's statements "reinforces the conviction that there is a major shift in the intentions of the officials regarding reforms. This is mainly exemplified by the fact that both the old guard and the conservative movement managed to impede the path of reform and lead a return to the traditional system."

He further said,"ambitions related to Jordan joining in on the democratic spring have been postponed for a while. Recent events point to a victory for conservatives."

Abu Rumman confirms a decline in US enthusiasm for reforms in Jordan, claiming that the US instead favors political stability.

According to the researcher, a report submitted by the Executive Director of the Institute for Near Eastern Studies in Washington, Robert Satloff, who recently visited Amman, reinforces this conviction. In the report, Satloff calls on the US administration not to pressure the kingdom for political reforms and to be content with what is already being done. This position was adopted by a number of US politicians who have recently visited Jordan.

A Historical Paradox

According to author and political analyst Fahd al-Khitan, Tarawneh will leave after completing the urgent task of resolving the faltering issues related to reforms and the electoral laws, as well as the severe economic crisis.

“The immediate task of the Tarawneh government, which may not survive two more months, cannot risk failure because the failure will not be blamed on the government, but on the Royal Palace," he said.

Al-Khitan goes so far as to argue that the Tarawneh government is, historically speaking, in the midst of a bizarre paradox because “it is a revolutionary reformist government led by a conservative politician."

Sultan Hattab, a writer from Al-Rai newspaper, defended the new president by saying, "he faces reality and is fully aware of the size of the gaps that need to be bridged." He also said the government has to complete the tasks assigned to it and "transition from defense to offense with rapid and concrete achievements."

The new government took the constitutional oath before King Abdullah II, vowing to make reforms that ensure the organization of parliamentary elections before the end of 2012.

Former Prime Minister Awn Al-Khasawneh finally submitted his resignation to the king roughly six months into his appointment for the implementation of reforms. The King then appointed the 63 year-old Tarawneh to form a government, accusing his resigned prime minister of slackness in implementing reform.

Tarawneh was also prime minister in 1998 and 1999. During this time, King Hussein Bin Talal passed away and King Abdullah II succeeded him.

Days after the resignation of Al-Khasawneh and the appointment of Tarawneh to form a government, thousands of citizens took to the streets May in Amman and a number of provinces. They were protesting against "the change of governments rather than the change of policies."

Jordan has been witnessing demonstrations and protests demanding political, economic and anti-corruption reforms since January 2011.

Found in: tarawneh government, reforms, one man one vote, king abdullah ii, awn al-khasawneh, arab spring, arab

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